A New Map of Britain: With Just a Click or Two, We Can Now Tell How Many Immigrants Live near Us. Do We Need This? Absolutely, Writes Mark Easton

Article excerpt

This month, the BBC publishes an online interactive map of Britain of a kind not seen before. It shows where the foreigners live. In a few clicks, users can see how many "immigrants" there are in their area, which countries they came from, and how that group is faring economically. Based on censuses and other official data, the map was commissioned by the left-of-centre Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), and it makes both challenging and at times uncomfortable viewing. Yet perhaps the most surprising thing is that it has not been done before now.

Until the map appeared, we could only guess how, say, Indians were doing compared with Bangladeshis. And yet the answer--those born in India comfortably outperform the British-born population, while those from Bangladesh struggle--poses important questions for government and the communities themselves.

We were probably unaware that one in four people living in London was born abroad and that in Wembley, synonymous with English pride, more than half the population is immigrant. Nor did we know that the third-largest group of immigrants are German-born people--mostly the children of British servicemen stationed on the Rhine.

Why didn't we know? The Home Office is obsessive about data, but for years its Immigration Research and Statistics Service has been focusing on asylum-seekers and "illegals", even though legal migration has been the biggest factor in our population growth. According to the IPPR research, Britain has experienced net immigration since 1994 of roughly 1.2 million people. That is equivalent to the population of Hampshire.

This is a policy area with profound implications, yet it appears that facts and figures are scarce. Some argue that they merely provide dry tinder for bigots, and it may be true that Britain's success in limiting the rise of the far right is a consequence of an unspoken compact between government and much of the media to leave well alone.

Certainly the Home Office Cohesion and Faiths Unit sees it as part of its remit to "promote a positive view of diversity", and staff are told to "encourage journalists to publish good news stories". Yet diversity is a social policy about which, as the Tory focus on immigration at the May election suggested, many in Britain are dubious. And the Home Office's own research finds that "the more ethnically diverse an area is, the less likely people are to trust others within that area". In other words, diversity appears to undermine community cohesion.

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While conclusions such as these make us uncomfortable, this is no reason to ignore them. Social justice obliges us to examine the way immigrant groups thrive or barely survive. …